Yasu S. Morita
Research areas include infectious diseases, bacterial pathogenesis, tuberculosis, nontuberculous mycobacteria diseases, biogenesis of cell membrane and cell wall, microbial metabolism of lipids and glycans, chemotherapy, small molecule screening, and target discovery for antibiotics.
My research group focuses on combating infectious diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and leprosy by searching for new drug targets and designing assays to identify new antibiotics. Development of new anti-TB drugs will save millions of lives that succumb to death every year. Multi-drug resistant strains of TB pathogens are becoming more and more widespread, and co-infection with HIV, which is extremely difficult to treat, is becoming common; thus the urgent need for new antibiotics. We focus our research on sugar metabolism because sugars play key roles in creating surface coat of TB pathogens, making them naturally resistant to common antibiotics. While various types of sugars are needed to create the surface coat, there are not enough sugars in the environment where these bacteria thrive. TB pathogens must make these sugar molecules by themselves, thus metabolic pathways that produce these sugars are excellent targets for antibiotic screening.
Another strategy to identify potential drug targets is to investigate sugar metabolism in the context of biofilm formation. Biofilms have been implicated in the spread of diseases caused by bacteria related to TB pathogens. These diseases are collectively called nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM) diseases, which is more common than TB in developed countries such as the US. NTM diseases are difficult to control due to the lack of effective antibiotics and the ability of the bacteria to form biofilms. We recently found that one of lipid-linked sugars that decorate the surface membrane of bacterial cells is critical for biofilm formation. We are currently investigating how this unique surface sugar coat is important for biofilm formation at the molecular level.
Learn more at www.micro.umass.edu/faculty-and-research/yasu-morita
- PhD, Johns Hopkins University
- Post-doctoral training, University of Melbourne/Osaka University